Nintendo Enthusiast Talks To Jools Watsham
Jools Watsham is synonomous with quality game experiences on Nintendo handhelds. The Creative Director and Co-owner of Renegade Kid has made some mighty impressive software over the years, such as the Dementium series, Moon, and the recent 3DS eshop sweetheart, Mutant Mudds. Having worked at Iguana Entertainment/Acclaim on such acclaimed games as Turok 2 and NBA Jam, Jools\’ years of experience give him the backbone required for pursuing new and ambitious projects. Whatever the future holds for Renegade Kid, it’s sure to be exciting.
Jools graciously accepted our request for an interview and we used the opportunity to get to know him and his company a little better and to find out what types of games he\’d like to make in the future. We also want to thank John Kaiser III, who is currently partnering with Renegade Kid on the unique pitchWinPLAY competition, for getting us in touch with Jools.
NE: Renegade Kid seems very fond of Nintendo. A Nintendo Enthusiast, might we say? The last generation has seen a handful of your stellar DS games and now there’s a big focus on the 3DS eshop. How did this relationship with Nintendo systems come about? Are you a Nintendo fan, or is this purely for technical reasons?
Jools: Well, we are huge fans of Nintendo’s handhelds. Our first game, Dementium, was a conscious decision to make a survival horror game in a market where there was very little competition. From there we naturally stayed with the DS as we continued to work on a few more first-person shooters as well as a racing game called ATV Wild Ride, which is apparently a \”cult hit\”. We\’ve always been open to working on other platforms, but I am happy working on Nintendo’s hardware.
NE: Can you give me an idea of what games you love playing? What are your personal tastes in gaming both from your youth and more recently?
Jools: I like many types of genres. Some of my favorite games are Super Mario World, Silent Hill 2, Mario Kart, Demon’s Crest, A Link to the Past, Red Dead Redemption, Mario 64, COD: Modern Warfare, and Super Mario 3D Land.
NE: Before founding Renegade Kid you worked at Iguana Entertainment/Acclaim making over 30 games with them. What game from your past are you most proud of?
Jools: It would be between Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel and Iggy’s Reckin\’ Balls. Zero was my first leadership role. I was the lead artist and animated all of Zero’s moves as well as some enemies and levels. Iggy’s was my first role as a lead designer/project manager, where I took the game from concept to completion. I am very proud of both games in many ways, but it is hard for me to not to see the mistakes I made with both games. 🙂
NE: I assume you met your partner, Gregg Hargrove, while working at Acclaim. How did it come about that you two would decide to \”go indie\” and create your own development studio?
Jools: Yes, Gregg joined Iguana soon after I did. We became good friends. We talked about wanting to start our own company for many years. After about 10 years of saying that we finally took the plunge and decided to make a go of it with Dementium as our first title. It was a huge risk, but we felt like if it didn\’t work out we\’d just be looking for jobs afterwards. Fortunately, we haven\’t had to do that yet.
NE: From the diversity in your portfolio and the fact that Renegade Kid often attempts projects that others don\’t have the confidence to try (FPS games on the DS, a pioneering early effort on the untested waters of the 3DS eshop, the new GameSCRIBE project) I assume you like having the freedom to pursue the projects you want. How does indie development differ from having a big company behind you? What are the benefits and the challenges?
Jools: Yes, I think it is an understatement for me to say I prefer being independent. 🙂 The freedom to pursue our own ideas and develop them the way we want to is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. Working for a big company is great, and I am very appreciative of my time at Iguana/Acclaim, but the day we started Renegade Kid felt like my career had really started properly.
NE: What advice would you give to aspiring indie developers who are just starting out?
Jools: You should figure out what will make you happy. Is it achieving your original idea, no matter what other people may think of it? Or is it more important to you that many people enjoy your game? The former suggests that perhaps you are someone who simply wants to express themselves, and gets satisfaction from doing so. The latter might mean that you want to entertain people and other people’s opinion matter to you. Once you figure out what you want, just go for it and don\’t look back. There will never be a good time to make the leap. It will be difficult. You will make sacrifices. If you are willing to hack your way through the prickly undergrowth, you will feel accomplished when you reach the other side. And then you\’ll want to do it all over again.
NE: How big is Renegade Kid?
Jools: Our core team is just four. We hire contractors depending on the projects\’ needs. The Dementium II team grew to about 10 people.
NE: How many projects are you able to work on at one time in the company?
Jools: As many as we can handle. Right now I am working on about four or five games. It’s a little insane, and I like it like that.
NE: Is there a plan to expand or are you comfortable leaving it at the current size?
Jools: Yes, we would like to expand so we could be more effective and try more things.
NE: Your first games developed as an indie dev and your current ones show that you have certain propensity towards handhelds over consoles. Any particular reason for that?
Jools: I personally just love handhelds. Plus, the team size and overall cost of development is much lower for handhelds over console titles. They\’re a little easier to handle. Plus, we get to stand out a little more while most of our peers chase the console glory.
NE: Do you see yourself ever having plans to make console games?
Jools: Yes, I can see that happening in the future.
NE: On the DS, Renegade Kid seemed to be about creating a technical marvel, a super-powered FPS engine, and using that to create their masterpieces on the handheld. Whereas, on the 3DS, Renegade Kid seems to be going retro, making games that are more simple but with pleasing aesthetics and gameplay. Why the change in direction?
Jools: The reason Mutant Mudds happened is primarily due to the opportunity that eShop presented. Being able to release an original game within the first year of a new market is a big opportunity. There is very little competition and noise, so there’s more chance to stand out in the market and get attention. Plus, a retro platformer can only be released in a few select markets and connect with the correct audience; the eShop is certainly one of those markets.
NE: How is Bob Ives, your Technical Director, handling the change now that he doesn\’t have to build an incredibly powerful and robust 3D engine? Is he itching to start building a beast of technology on the system?
Jools: Bob created our 3D engine for the 3DS, which we used to develop Face Racers, Planet Crashers, and ATV Wild Ride 3D. So, he’s plenty busy. 🙂
NE: I once wrote on this site that Metroid Prime Hunters is not the best Metroid game on the DS – rather, Moon is. Obviously, I\’m a very big fan of your FPS achievements on the DS. Will you ever return to FPS genre on the 3DS?
Jools: Thank you. That is very kind of you. Yes, we would love to create a FPS for the 3DS.
NE: Speaking of FPS games, I once commented that FPS games like Call of Duty share a lot of similarities with \”casual\” games. The only other person I\’ve ever heard call Call of Duty games casual is you. In your opinion, what’s the difference between a hardcore and a casual game?
Jools: For me, a casual game is one that allows you to journey through it without using too much skill. That is not a knock on casual games, just an observation. They are designed for casual players to enjoy them. Hardcore games require skill, because that is what hardcore players want/need from games to enjoy them. Mutant Mudds is a hardcore game. 🙂
Current and Recent Projects
NE: Well, now that you mention it, congratulations on Mutant Mudds both commercially and critically. Will we see a sequel one day? How will you top the original?
Jools: Thank you very much. Yes, a sequel will happen one day. I must keep the details secret for now. Sorry.
NE: PAL regions have been feeling a bit left out when it comes to eshop downloads. They never received Sakura Samurai from Nintendo, VVVVVV from Nicalis and Terry Cavanagh, and neither have they received Mutant Mudds from Renegade Kid. Will PAL regions ever get the Maximillian love?
Jools: Yes, we\’re working on getting Max over to Europe now. We already received the Australian age rating, and now we\’re working towards getting PEGI and USK.
NE: You are currently working on Bomb Monkey, and while things were kept pretty quiet for a while, the cat was let out of the bag at PAX East. From what I\’ve heard, it will be quite an addictive little puzzle game, with lots of features for a price that’s hard to beat. Can you describe the game to us in short and tell us why we will enjoy the game?
Jools: Yeah, it’s really just a simple little puzzle game. It is a game design that I have been kicking around in my mind for many years now. The basic premise is you have blocks rising up from below. If one of them reach you at the top of the screen it’s game over. Items fall into your hands that you can drop down into the mix of blocks. They can be colors blocks, which you want to try and match-up with same colored blocks, and bombs. Dropping bombs is the only way you can destroy the blocks below. You can destroy a chain of same-colored blocks, and also create massive combos by triggering special explosive crates that wipe out entire rows or columns. I suppose it could be considered a combination of Tetris and Bomberman in a way.
NE: There have been so many puzzle games with blocks rising to the top of the screen. What was the creative process- how did you come up with a new puzzle idea?
Jools: It started with the idea of capturing the core essence of Tetris. I don\’t know if I have achieved that, but that was the goal. What I find fascinating about Tetris is that the items you use to fight off the rising pieces are also the items that ultimately cause your demise. Beyond that, I wanted to present a puzzle game with personality instead of just a bunch of abstract shapes.
NE: Most puzzle games don\’t have a mascot or character you can play as. The recent Pushmo by Nintendo tried to change that. Bomb Monkey also goes with a mascot. How did Bomb Monkey sneak his way into this puzzle game?
Jools: I think puzzle games need something extra to make them more appealing. Tetris is an amazing game, and I love it. But, I also like the idea of Mr. Driller and games of that type. I am personally drawn to games that have more character to them. I find that I can identify with it more on an emotional level, which is important for enjoyment.
NE: What’s the coolest powerup/special move in Bomb Monkey?
Jools: When you place a single bomb that proceeds to trigger a series of combos and chains that take you from a \”I\’m almost dead!\” full screen of blocks to a \”In your face!\” empty screen, it feels awesome!
NE: What are your plans for after Bomb Monkey? Another smaller title or something big?
Jools: ATV Wild Ride 3D will be our next eShop title, after Bomb Monkey.
NE: We\’ve heard that Nintendo will be very download-centric on the Wii U. Will you be taking advantage of that? Will we see some Renegade Kid games show up on the Wii U?
Jools: It is possible.
NE: Without pushing you into any NDA-breaking details, is the Wii U a system that has you excited from what you\’ve seen of it so far? Tell us the exact specs! 😛
Jools: I know as much as you do about the hardware. 🙂
NE: The pitchWinPLAY competition is a rather brilliant idea. Basically, according to GameSCRIBE, you will create the game submission that some fan comes up with. Where did the inspiration for this idea come from? How did Renegade Kid get involved with such a unique and creative project?
Jools: The idea came from John Kaiser, the founder of GameSCRIBE. He’s a good friend of mine and he called me up one day to tell me of his idea. I thought it was an excellent idea and was instantly on-board with it.
NE: I have this idea for a video game. See, there’s an old grandmother who gets superpowers and her cat mutates into a cute but deadly feline monster… Can we get started together on this right away?
Jools: Sounds like a winner to me!
Before We Leave…
NE: Let’s say some publisher came over to you and said you can have as much financial backing and resources you need in order to make whatever project you wanted to on any system. Hire as big a team as needed and don\’t worry about how many sales it makes. Basically, make your dream game without thinking about the consequences of how well it sells. What would you want to work on?
Jools: I think my answer to that would change daily. 🙂 However, for me I like to be driven by challenges, and some of those challenges come from the limitations of a project. Removing some or all of those limitations can result in a misguided disaster.
NE: Can you leave Nintendo Enthusiast readers with something exciting? Give us a nice quote that we can get excited about. Please?
Jools: If you enjoyed Mutant Mudds, you can count on seeing Max again in the future.